Syonan–light of the south. South of what? Japan, of course, and then we arrive at the idea of Singapore being a beacon of Japanese power in the dark, unknown southern frontiers. The Nipponcentricism is without a doubt offensive to those who live here, who counter that they are not the peripheral, the unmapped, a people who are not counted until they are encountered.
But why be uneasy with ‘Syonan’ and have no discomfort with ‘Nanyang’ or ‘South Sea’? Also a reference to the south, this time the south of China? And all the islands, distinct in the cultures and peoples, homogenised into the ‘seas’. Syonan has a gallery. Nanyang has a university, a polytechnic, a junior college, an academy of fine arts, various other schools…
No, how can you compare an act of military expansion with what was primarily waves of primarily economic migration? But to speak of ourselves as the south is to always imagine the centre as elsewhere, to see ourselves as vassals onto which power is projected.
But Singapore, in the Nusantara world, is the centre. It lies on the axis of Sri Tri Buana’s journey from Palembang to Malacca. It is the teardrop down the cheek of the Peninsula, above the lip of Riau Islands. It is the pearl flanked by the great islands of Sumatra and Borneo. It is north of one of the mighty centres of the archipelago, Java.
There is also a violence in colonial settlement, different from the violence of military occupation.
There is that violence in the act of naming.
Source: Alfian Sa’at